How accurate are eyewitness accounts?

On Behalf of | Jan 23, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

When you face a California criminal charge, many different factors help determine the strength of the case against you. If there are any eyewitnesses who plan to testify against you, this may have a notable impact on the outcome of your case. Many people find eyewitness testimony to be among the most convincing and compelling forms of evidence out there. However, studies suggest that eyewitness accounts are not nearly as accurate as many people think.

Per the Innocence Project, eyewitness accounts have proven inaccurate to the point where they are now the top factor contributing to wrongful convictions in the United States.

How often eyewitness accounts are inaccurate

Over the last several decades, more than 375 incarcerated individuals had their sentences overturned after DNA evidence proved their innocence. Of those more than 375 cases, 69% of them involved mistaken eyewitness identifications.

Why eyewitness accounts are often inaccurate

There are a number of reasons mistaken eyewitness identifications occur. Often, they result from issues that occur during lineups. Sometimes, the law enforcement official administering the lineup gives a witness unintentional clues about a particular party’s involvement in an offense. Other times, an eyewitness might mistakenly assume that one of the individuals in the lineup had to have committed the offense in question, even if this is not the case. Many law enforcement departments also fail to ask witnesses about how confident they are in their identifications, which would also help improve accuracy.

A growing number of states have adopted new procedures meant to help improve the accuracy of eyewitness identifications. California is among them.